Breaking down the matchups of Friday's 12:40 p.m. matchup between Creighton and Alabama:
Creighton will need Gregory Echenique to stay out of foul trouble to try to neutralize Alabama’s JaMychal Green, a 6-foot-8 bruiser who has double-double potential. The Crimson Tide like to pound the ball into the paint, a potential concern if Echenique can’t stay in the game. Freshman Nick Jacobs will likely draw the unenviable assignment of guarding Bluejay star Doug McDermott. His ability to score with either hand and from anywhere on the court has been particularly mystifying to first-time opponents.
This battle could be won by the team that gets the most out of its point guard. Alabama’s Trevor Releford is a defensive whiz who ranks 33rd in the country in steals per game (2.0). Levi Randolph is also solid defensively. Antoine Young has excelled at picking his spots offensively this season, and is capable of taking over if the Crimson Tide try to jam things up inside. Alabama defends the perimeter like few other teams, but the Bluejays have been adept at getting shooters open looks from 3-point range. As he has been all season, Creighton’s Grant Gibbs could be the wild card that swings the advantage the Bluejays’ way.
Creighton needs Ethan Wragge to snap out of his shooting funk — he’s missed 23 of his past 30 3-pointers — in order to stretch the defense. The Bluejays have an X-factor in the unshakeable Josh Jones, while freshmen Avery Dingman, Austin Chatman and Will Artino have contributed valuable minutes this season. Freshmen Trevor Lacey and Rodney Cooper get the bulk of the minutes played by the Crimson Tide reserves. Lacey is a five-star recruit who’s third on the team in scoring. Alabama gets little from its frontcourt backups.
Tournament nerves could be a factor early, as Gibbs is the only player on either team with NCAA experience, and his consists of a minute when he was with Gonzaga in 2010. Alabama definitely has an edge in overcoming adversity as injuries and internal strife — four players have lost time due to suspensions — have threatened to derail the Crimson Tide’s season. Coach Anthony Grant has juggled lineups, while Creighton has started the same five all season.